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Urban Homesteading Eliminates the Green Acres City vs Country Issue

Forty-four years ago today the CBS TV series Green Acres was first broadcast.  I loved repeats of this series during the 1970s.  Part of me wanted to live in the urban penthouse while another part wanted to try the farming thing.  The show started with Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) crying over the prospect of leaving the city to follow her husband’s dream of farming the land:


So why am I talking about a campy 60s sitcom?  Last night I listened to Amanda Doyle interview a father (Jules Dervaes) and daughter (Anais Dervaes) on KDHX taking about their urban homestead in Pasadena California where they use their typical urban lot to grow food for themselves and sell the rest to others.

(click image above to view website)
(click image above to view website)

Lisa Douglas didn’t need to be dragged out of the city for Oliver Douglas to farm, a small plot of land in the city is sufficient.   Their website is http://www.pathtofreedom.com/.

The podcast of the interview should be posted on KDHX shortly and is usually available for a week or so.  The podcasts are also on iTunes.

Speaking of farms, today is “Fresh from the Family Farm, a restaurant event to benefit Farm Aid.  Participating restaurants will donate 20% of their September 15 profits to Farm Aid.”  I visited The Terrace View in Citygarden for lunch and will do another restaurant on the participant for dinner tonight.  Will be either Local Harvest Cafe, Stellina Pasta or Pi.

– Steve Patterson


Poll, How Often Do You Shop at a Local Farmers’ Market?

The poll for this week has to do with how frequently you shop at your local farmers’ markets. I like to go a couple of times a month.   Soulard Farmers’ Market is usually one of those stops:

Above: St. Louis Soulard Farmers Market, May 2009
Above: St. Louis' Soulard Farmers' Market, May 2009

Of course I like new markets in addition to the classics like Soulard:

Above, Tower Grove Farmers Market, May 2006
Above, Tower Grove Farmer's Market, May 2006

When traveling I like to take in a city’s market.  Not for produce but for local flavor:

Above: Seattles Pike Place Market, March 2009
Above: Seattle's Pike Place Market, March 2009
Above: Torontos St. Lawrence Market, July 2006
Above: Toronto's St. Lawrence Market, July 2006
Above: Seattles Pike Place Market, October 2003
Above: Seattle's Pike Place Market, October 2003
Above: Vancouvers Granville Island, October 2003
Above: Vancouver's Granville Island, October 2003
Above: Philadelpias Reading Terminal Market
Above: Philadelpia's Reading Terminal Market, October 2001

I don’t see these markets putting the big grocery chains out of business anytime soon but when you’ve got a market with real farmers it is nice to buy your radishes from the person that pulled them out of the soil.  The poll is located in the top right corner of the main page.


I Drove My Car Today

For most people driving a car is no big deal, millions do it everyday. For me, five months to the day after being rushed to the hospital following my stroke, it was a very big deal.

A year ago I was so excited to not own a car, using my 49cc Honda Metropolitan scooter to get around town and to meet with clients. The stroke took out the use of my left limbs. I’ve got decent use of the left leg at this point, but my left arm/hand is still functionally limited. So a couple of weeks ago I sold the scooter (post) and last week bought a used car — a Toyota Corolla.

For obvious reasons I bought one with an automatic transmission — no extra hand to shift with (while keeping the other on the wheel) nor a reliable leg to activate a clutch. I also wanted a vehicle with power windows because trying to use my right hand to roll down the driver’s window would not be easy. The Corolla has an outstanding reliability record and excellent fuel economy. This Corolla, like most, was assembled in the joint venture Toyota/GM plant known as NUMMI in Fremont, CA, located not far from my brother’s office.

Don’t think that I’m just out on the road living it up without any equipment or training. I had a driving evaluator (a licensed occupational therapist) come and give me vision & cognitive testing as well as on on-road driving test. So last week, at age 41 and after driving for 25 years, I was back in driver’s ed.

We drove on the streets and the interstate. He recommended the two vehicle modifications which were the two I had already assumed:


The spinner knob on the steering wheel at 2 O’clock helps me safely turn the wheel with only one hand. The lever you see behind the wheel to the right is a turn signal crossover, helping me use turn signals with my right hand. The spinner knob is illegal for use on the road unless you’ve be determined to need it. Both devices work great.

So now my trick will be to see how seldom I can drive the car. I feel like a failed environmentalist selling the scooter and getting a car. As I start to buy gas I know I will quickly be reminded of just how efficient the scooter was. I’ll still use the wheelchair to get around downtown. I’ll also continue to work on my walking so that some day I’ll be able to stop using the wheelchair, the cane and leg brace.

In the meantime the car will allow me to get to my office on South Kingshighway without having to bum rides from others. This also permits me to once again have the ability to meet clients at properties that are for sale. A paycheck would be nice.

The car will permit me to stop by Local Harvest grocery and various farmers’ markets to get locally grown food. And finally it will allow me to get and and see projects as they are happening so that I can review them here.

To me the car is an important park of my mobility but I’m not going to let it rule my life.


Soulard Market to Become a Park

Don’t worry, the city has no plans to do away with the market.

However a bill (BB41) before the Board Of Aldermen would make the market part of the “Soulard Playground” park which shifts control from the Director of Public Utilities to the Parks Director.  Maybe this is a good thing?  Maybe it is a power play to increase the Parks Dept budget?

Given the issue of citizens getting to vote on any leasing or selling of park land I wonder how the long-term leasing of vendor stalls would be impacted?


St. Louis Magazine Drops the Glitterati for Green in January Issue

jan-cover-smallWell, not really. The glitterati section is still there — you know people must be seen at all the social functions wearing just the right overpriced outfit. Still, the staff at St. Louis Magazine found time to put together an interesting green issue — their first.

The magazine is still on the same paper and most likely using the same inks as it has been, I see no indication of any recycled paper content or earth-friendly inks. An evaluation of the paper stock and printing methods they use would be a good idea! From “E: The Environmental Magazine” in 2001:

When it comes to promoting ecological destruction, toxic pollution and wastefulness on a large scale, it’s hard to beat the magazine industry. According to Coop America, nearly 95 percent of magazines print on paper with no recycled content, condemning 17 million trees to death by the saw each year.

But the trees cut to make paper are only the first environmental victims of magazine publishing. Turning those trees into pulp consumes enormous amounts of energy and water, and the bleaching process creates dioxin, a chemical the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called “the most potent carcinogen ever tested on laboratory animals”

Environmentalist say this colossal problem could be greatly reduced simply by switching from virgin to recycled paper. Government research agrees. The EPA has reported that substituting one ton of 100 percent recycled paper for virgin paper saves 17 trees, 4,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity, 7,000 gallons of water and produces 60 pounds less air pollution.

The above is why I don’t get the number of magazines I used to. Even if we recycle them when done the trees are still gone and the pollutants are in our environment. I applaud St. Louis Magazine for doing a green issue, but their future issues need to actually be environmentally green. However, all the photos of the people featured in the green section were taken without any artificial flash and thus didn’t use any electricity — certainly worth noting

But, let’s move past magazine production to the content of the January 2008 issue.

Editor Stephen Schekenberg, a prior client of mine, helps introduce the topic for the month:

At present there is an incredible amount of environmental action taking place throughout St. Louis. In this first “green” issue of the magazine, we celebrate the stars of the region’s environmental scene: architects and designers, college kids and politicians, entrepreneurs and citizens. It’s hard to say what’s been more inspiring — learning what these St. Louisans are doing or hearing the attitude they have while doing it. Yes, the world’s environmental concerns are serious and significant. But their tone — and, we hope, ours — is neither gloom-and-doom nor finger-wagging. I’ve been inspired by their positivity, and their hope. I hope you will be, too.

One of the articles is 20 Cool Ways to Help Stop Global Warming. The number one thing? Ride a scooter, of course! The entire list is well worth reading. They didn’t include using a clothesline to hang laundry, I guess it wasn’t cool enough.

They also do a nice photo spread on the EcoUrban modular home in South City. Besides the nice photos, they point out all the various green features of the home which, to the naked eye, are not always apparent.

The main article is the “Green Giants” — those that are “doing the most to sustain our city — and our planet.” I’m not going to give away their entire list — you’ll have to get the magazine to see that. I did want to point out a few. Among the ‘citizens’ are Eric & Mary Brende as “models for slow living.” Eric Brende, some of you may recall, was the author of “Better OFF: Flipping the Switch on Technology” which I reviewed in July 2005. Eric pedals people around town on his rickshaw and Mary makes wonderful soaps she sells at the Soulard Farmers’ Market. I’ve been honored to speak to have been a guest in their home and I stop and talk to Mary when I am at the market or I’ll chat with Eric when I see him out and about (assuming he doesn’t have any customers).

In the ‘advocates’ section we have J.B. Lester, publisher of the popular Healthy Planet monthly in our region. Early on I wrote a monthly column for the Healthy Planet and one of my dearests friends, Lois Brady, was their food & travel editor for many years. Jeff McIntire-Strassburg from greenoptions.com and sustainablog.org is on the list as is the host of KDHX’s Earthworms show, Jean Ponzi. Also on this list is, well, me!

In the ‘entrepreneurs’ section we have Patrick Horine & Jenny Ryan of the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market and, along with Maddie Earnest and Jason McClelland, also of Local Harvest Grocery. Jenny Ryan is a recent graduate of the Urban Planning program I am in at SLU, her final ‘capstone’ for the degree being about local/sustainable food and the Tower Grove Market was used as a case study.

Also in this section is Terry Winkelmann, a co-owner of Home Eco — the cool store on Macklind that sells all the goods a green person needs. From a great selection of books, to hemp jeans, to solar panels and yes, worm bins — they’ve got it or can get it for you.

Numerous architects and builders are mentioned including Marc Lopata from Sage Homebuilders and Jay Swoboda and Nate Forst from EcoUrban.

In the ‘civic forces’ section we have Citizens for Modern Transit led by my friend (and UrbanReviewSTL reader) Thomas Shrout. Nothing better than debating light rail vs. streetcars with Mr. Shrout! Also mentioned is the Gateway Green Alliance for their activism including getting signatures to have the state audit the City of St. Louis. I’ll be on a panel hosted by the Greens on February 6th. The topic will be transportation – mark those calendars.

And finally we have the scholars and educators section. Someone who is both a scholar and educator as well as a personal friend, and the director of the Urban Planning and Real Estate Development program (UPRED) at St. Louis University, is Dr. Sarah Coffin. Dr. Coffin is one of the main reasons I entered the program at SLU. We don’t always agree on things but she is excellent at ensuring all students get a chance to express their views on the wide range of material presented in her classes. An expert in brownfield development, land trusts and a variety of other topics, I’m glad Dr. Coffin is here in St. Louis. And yes, I have her for one of my three courses next Spring but trust me when I say that sucking up doesn’t fly with Dr. Coffin — participation and well researched and presented ideas are required!

Another feature article, by Stefene Russell, is called Luddite’s Delight. This is how “one writer survived a month of treading lightly on the earth.” This is really a great read as Stefene decides to go green for a month and takes her husband on the journey with her. After starting off the article about the environmental credentials of her family, Stefene turns to herself:

And me? I recycle. That’s about it. In my family, I am the eco-blasphemer. The loser. The kid who might as well have become a dope dealer or an Amway distributor. My husband grew up in the suburbs, in a subdivision he describes as “so cookie-cutter, all the houses developed the same crack in the dining-room ceiling.” He spent his summer days watching MacGyver in an air-conditioned house, two-fisting Twinkies and Kool-Aid. He still loves hot dogs, video games, long meandering drives, new things crackling under plastic shrink-wrap, drive-through pizza, heated car seats, long showers, movie popcorn, swimming pools and gadgets of every sort.

One of my favorite lines from the piece:

Even my father, after going on a 45-minute screed about the “political boondoggle of ethanol,” recoils after I inform him I’m going to ride the bus. “That sounds pretty exotic,” he says. “Don’t you have any college students who could do that for you?”

This tale of Pradas, transit, MacGyver and toilet paper is an excellent read and thankfully an extended version is available online.
If you go out and buy the magazine be sure to offer it to someone else when you are done. If you’d rather not buy a copy, head to your nearest public library to read it in the periodicals section.